Chris Cooper PhD

When Sadness Becomes a Disorder

Gary Greenberg. Manufacturing Depression: The Secret History
of a Modern Disease.
NY: Simon and Schuster, 2010.
(Click on the thumbnail to see the book on

My first response when reading this book was “Thank goodness someone is saying this!” My next was to dig into his references and bibliography and gobble up several more works on the topic. This remains one of my favorites.

Dr. Greenberg’s writing is fluid and unforced, making serious material
an easy read (He has, according to the dust cover blurb, written for publications such as the New Yorker, Harper’s and Discover — just to name a few). He is able to combine humor (sometimes pointed at his own foibles and sometimes at the foibles of the health-care professions and pharmaceutical industry), with serious scholarship. And his points are well taken!

The book follows two tracks: The major theme focuses on the history of psychiatric thinking about and treatment of the thing we now all too easily call depression, and leads to an analysis of the current mainstream medical view of depression and its treatment. The second thread in the book is about Dr. Greenberg’s own experience of depression and his participation in a clinical trial at Massachusetts General Hospital. He includes his own doubts about whether depression is the kind of illness we currently see it as, and his experiences as a psychotherapist with severely, mildly and moderately depressed patients. His own experience of sadness and angst as described in the book would be seen by most mental health professionals as moderate to (at times) severe depression.

What I like about Dr. Greenberg’s book is that, although some of his negative reviewers seem to have missed this part, he appears able to see both sides of issues. He does not merely rail at the pharmaceutical industry for being greedy (although he is critical of them vis-a-vis antidepressant medication), but understands that part of their mission, as well as to provide helpful products, is to make money and sell things. And perhaps the making money has become too prominent and perhaps some of those running such corporations have lost sight of the being helpful part. At the very least they often appear to spend little time in critical analysis of the true human value of each of their products.

Although it is not totally comprehensive (what is?) or the final analysis (again, what is?) it raises some very important questions and is very thoughtful and well documented in the process. Its 48 pages of notes and bibliography have led me to other interesting works on the topic.

432 pages. 367 pages of text + Notes and Index